By Dan Trippie
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In reading these words it seems the imagination of our founding fathers had in view a society devoid of bigotry and injustice. Can there be a more lofty ambition than to create a place where racism and intolerance seize to exist? Surely the longing of such virtue is found in the hearts of man. Yet the irony behind these words is in the juxtaposition of those who enslaved Africans while imagining such a world of freedom. Perhaps the greatest paradox of our nation’s history was found in our struggle to be freed from tyranny while at the same time enslaving others.
Many have pondered how such a dichotomy could exist in 1776. Yet the fog lifts as one considers the prevailing worldview of the 18th century. By the mid 1700’s, Deism was a common lens in which the world was viewed. Deism is a belief that although a creator exists somewhere in the universe, he is not intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of his creation. Thus a Deistic worldview holds a position where God is somewhat less than an absentee landlord. His character is inferior to the landlord in that not only does He not care for the welfare of his property, but He also demands no rent.
One must consider how dangerous a lens like this is to wear. A worldview is the determining factor for how one considers complex issues such as sex, religion and race. For it is out of one’s worldview that vital interpretations emerge as well. Interpretations of words such as “all”, “men” and “rights.” As the language of our nation’s most critical documents were crafted, is it possible the meaning of such words were held to the subjectivity of the author’s worldview? After all, who are the “all” they are referring to, who are the “men” worthy of such rights? Clearly the African slaves did not fall into their definition of “all”.
Perhaps the greatest deception to overtake our founding fathers was a movement to a worldview that stripped the power of objectivity from their words. Deism did not hold an external standard by which one could measure the meaning of specific words. The lack of belief in a personal Deity that could actively participate in human affairs allowed for the subjectivity of specific meaning to arise. Judgment on who “all men” were was thus left to the eye of the beholder. This seems like an innocent detail when all the beholders shared a common value. But what happens when opposing views collide with various people groups? Groups that perhaps differ in gender and ethnicity? It would seem the move to a worldview that diminished the behavior of a personal God opened the door to oppression.
As our nation moves further and further down the path of subjectivity, one can only wonder what the implications for race relations will be on our future. A recent report done by Brookings Institution titled “Metro America”, records the United States population stands as 1/3 non-white today. However, as immigration continues to fuel our current growth rate, this generation stands on the precipice of a transition to a non-white majority for the first time in our history. The question must be posed then: If the roots of Deism allowed for the turning of a blind eye to slavery in 1776, are there potential hazards looming for a nation holding a Post-Modern worldview as it transitions it’s ethnicity?
No doubt we have come a long way in the area of race relations in the last 200 years, but it would be fantasy to believe our nation has achieved the full virtue laid out in the Declaration of Independence. For those who challenge this idea, I simply encourage you to spend time listening to the experiences of those living in the nearest minority community. It seems you would be hard pressed to find anyone who will testify that we have achieved a full annihilation of bigotry. Regardless of all our good progress and all our good effort, the evils of inequality still exist in the streets of our cities. After 200 years, it seems safe to say our founding documents failed to create a society free of racism. So if the documents we hold fast to as a nation cannot provide a place where all men are truly viewed and treated as equals, where are “we the people” left to turn for equality? How will we find a worldview capable of transitioning our countries ethnicity without seeing the fabric of social order come apart? What paradigm will allow us to process subjective experience without sacrificing objective realties?
Only the Cross of Jesus Christ provides a worldview capable of moving us through complicated transitions of our future. For no other system of belief can adequately deal with the complex tension found between the objective and subjective reality. There is no other philosophy that can answer difficult questions such as “what is good” (is there a person who would argue the goodness of one lying down his life for a friend?). Finally, the Cross is the only environment where all humans are found to be equal regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or religion. The Cross is the great equalizer, providing for us the only environment with the power to end racism. What we learn from the last 200 years of American history is that racism is not something a human system can eradicate. For the only worldview capable of creating a society devoid of bigotry and injustice is one that casts a shadow first from a Cross.
Dan Trippie is the lead pastor at Restoration Church. Check them out at www.restorationbuffalo.com